Top addiction scientists say NHMRC’s e-cigarettes statement is flawed

A group of 11 Australian and international tobacco addiction scientists have denounced the 2022 statement on e-cigarettes issued by Australia’s peak health and medical body, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), saying it is “seriously flawed” and “ignores available evidence”.

In a peer reviewed critique, published in leading scientific journal, Addiction, the experts argue that NHMRC’s Statement does not provide a balanced reflection of the benefits and risks of vaping and relies on flawed analyses creating a “dangerously inaccurate understanding of the safety of e-cigarettes and their effectiveness as a smoking cessation tool”.

The main points of concern, as cited by the authors of the critique, are that the NHMRC’s Statement:

  • Exaggerates the risks of vaping and fails to compare them with smoking.
  • Incorrectly claims that adolescent vaping causes subsequent smoking.
  • Ignores evidence of the benefits of vaping in helping smokers quit.
  • Ignores evidence that vaping is likely already having a positive effect on public health.
  • Misapplies the precautionary principle, which requires policy makers to compare the risks of introducing a product with the risks of delaying its introduction.

The authors are calling for urgent changes to the statement, which is being used to inform public health policy on vaping.

“E-cigarettes are currently a leading public health issue in Australia with statements from the NHMRC and other peak health bodies being used to inform approaches to regulation. By providing inaccurate and flawed information, these statements are misinforming policy and promoting incorrect approaches to regulation, which have already created a dangerous black market selling dodgy disposable vaping products to young people.”

The black market for illicit nicotine vapes has been a huge concern for retail groups, such as the Australian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS), which has been calling on the government to allow its members to sell vapes in the same way they sell tobacco.

Theo Foukkare, CEO of AACS, has made a submission to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), and has been very vocal on his stance that Australia’s nicotine vape black market will continue to flourish if the federal government fails to update regulations.

The 11 addiction scientists go on to say: “E-cigarettes are scientifically proven to be substantially more effective than nicotine replacement therapies at helping smokers quit deadly cigarettes. The statement from Australia’s peak health body must be updated to include available evidence and help our government effectively regulate these products as smoking cessation tools to help adult smokers quit.”

The authors of the critique believe the NHRMC statement confuses association with causation, adopts a double standard by uncritically accepting evidence of harms while being highly sceptical of evidence of benefits, and inappropriately applies the precautionary principle.

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